Forget about wine tasting, have you tried mezcal tasting?

Ever heard of mezcal tasting? No, we didn’t spell wine wrong.

Bars dedicated to mezcal tasting, or mezcalerias, are popping up around the country and its growing popularity has got us, and probably you, wondering: What in the world is this trendy liquor and where can we try it?

“Before we opened, mezcal was sort of an unknown spirit. That was 3 years ago,” Megan Barnes, the beverage director at Espita Mezcaleria in Washington D.C., said. “Now, the people who sit at my bar are well versed in mezcal and prefer it in their cocktails over other spirits.”

What is mezcal?

Mezcal is an agave-based liquor — but it’s not tequila. But tequila is a type of a mezcal. Confused? It’s OK, you’re not the only one.

“When people talk about mezcal, their most common association is that it’s tequila — which is a correct assumption, but it’s more than that,” Sean Skvarka, the bar manager at Mezcaleria Tobala in Austin, said.

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Tequila can only be made from agave tequilana, a.k.a. blue agave, and can only be made in the state of Jalisco in Mexico, whereas mezcal can be made from any type of agave anywhere, although about 85 percent is made in Oaxaca. It’s also been around for longer than tequila. 

Schultz says that mezcal also differs from tequila in that it’s cooked in underground pits with different kinds of agave that can be anywhere from 8 to 30 years mature. Each species of agave gives variations in the final taste of the mezcal depending on its environmental factors like where it was grown.

In conclusion: all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.

“It’s had a rich past, predating modern tequila by a significant amount of time,” Patrick Schultz, the bar manager at Minero Restaurant in Atlanta, said. “In the restaurant, I refer to it as tequila’s cooler, older sister.”

You’re hearing about it now because it’s on the rise: sales have gone from 50,000 cases sold in 2009 to 360,000 cases in 2017, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. 

How do you taste mezcal?

Think of mezcal tasting kind of like wine tasting.

“We do like the comparison between mezcal and wine as there are a lot of similarities between the two,” Megan said. “The flavor of mezcal comes from the type of agave, climate, terroir and its distillation process.”

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Schultz advises that before you dive head first into a full on mezcal tasting, maybe try it out in a cocktail and see if you like it first, then go ahead and try two or three different agave varieties with a meal or bar snack. He recommends orange slices dusted with tajin.

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